Monday, June 29, 2015

Enough to Go Around


It is my great and sincere honor to tell you about my friend Tanya's latest book. Tanya's first book, Slip, came out after I'd already become a fan of Tanya's writing, and an appreciator of all the good work she's done to spread awareness on the topics of autism and bipolar disorder. I was given the opportunity to be an early reader of Enough to Go Around. The book was sent to me as an e-mail attachment, and I damn near got carpal tunnel from scrolling, scrolling, scrolling for hours on end, as I was unable to "put it down." Below is a short interview I did with Tanya, about her latest work. Enjoy!

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROCESS OF WRITING THIS BOOK:


Enough to Go Around has been a process of discovery and a labor of love for most of my life. As a child I would go to my paternal grandparents’ home for various holidays, and while sitting around the dining room table eating traditional Slovakian food I would listen to many stories my grandparents told about their growing up years in Czechoslovakia and their immigration experiences. I was intrigued and often entertained by these stories, and when I was assigned a genealogy project in seventh grade, I brought a tape recorder and a notebook to their house and listened intently while they retold their stories. It was then that the idea of writing a book about them came into being.
Years passed – worked my way through college, became a single parent – and the story began to take shape although there wasn’t much writing time. Characters evolved, a video was given to me of a trip my dad took with his sister to Slovakia, and I borrowed books from my dad to use for research. My initial idea was to create a fictional account of my grandparents’ experiences (because there were a lot of facts and details I didn’t have), but I also wanted to weave the stories of the past with a present-day extended family and everyone’s lives. I spent years jotting down extensive notes and writing at least a dozen different outlines.
In 2007 I was blessed to take a trip with my father and my sister to Slovakia to do research and meet relatives. It was an amazing and emotional time. We saw the villages where both of my grandparents grew up, visited the graves of my great-grandparents, and met relatives we didn’t know we had. 
My life with my two sons, one of whom has autism, influenced me to write Slip, my first novel. I set Enough to Go Around aside for a while (which at the time had a different title, one of five over the years). My life was deeply entrenched in the world of special needs and that was where my mind was for several years, so I focused on that subject matter.
But a few years ago I was very happy to get back to the story of my family heritage. I wrote the first full draft during NANOWRIMO in 2008. Since then it continued to evolve into its present state. I am privileged – and thrilled – to be able to share it.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT YOUR READERS TO KNOW:

Enough to Go Around focuses on the theme of family life – its complexity, troubles, and rewards. I wanted to share my family’s heritage, of course, but also other elements of life, such as mistakes, regret, love, loss, and forgiveness. I wanted to foster awareness about bipolar disorder, which one of the main characters has, and how it can affect family life. For this I draw on my personal experience of bipolar, as well as the pain of losing a close family member to cancer, another element of the book. (Sadly, my father died of colon cancer in 2011 and did not see this book come to fruition.) Life is messy, families are fragile, and there are no easy fixes. But sometimes you can sit around the dining room table at Easter and tell jokes and stories and laugh and look around the table and realize that your life may be far from great, it may be really hard at times, but you have these moments to hold onto, these – and other – moments of grace that are just as much a part of that life, and perhaps even more important.




Monday, June 22, 2015

Shelia's



On another venture out of seclusion, I go in search of an ice cream cone. I don’t have to go far before I see a tiny pink building with BJ’s Ice Cream on it. I pull in, and a man appearing to be the owner, pops up from the single table in the place, occupied by what appears to be two of his friends, and welcomes me warmly.

“See anything that looks good?” he asks, “Need a taste of anything, let me know!”

“I see something I know will be good,” I answer, and I don’t need a taste, I’ll have a junior cone with cappuccino fudge.”

He starts to very carefully scoop the ice cream, it’s obvious he’s in no rush, and neither am I, for once in my life.

“Where you from?” he asks.

“Portland,” I reply.

“Oh, then no need to show a passport,” he jokes.

I ask him if he’s from around here, and he says he’s from Lexington, Kentucky. I learn he moved to Oregon when his wife had a job in Eugene. I tell him I used to live in Eugene, too. Turns out we lived very near each other, at the very same time.

“My wife was from England, loved to come to the Oregon Coast, reminded her of the weather in England. When she died, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, so I bought this little place and named it after her.”

“BJ?” I ask.

“No, BJ is the type of ice cream we sell, see the little sign next to it, the one that says ‘Shelia’s?’”

“Oh, yes, I see it,” I say.

“Gonna get a bigger sign made, “ he assures me, and I nod indicating my full support.

With each careful scoop of the ice cream scooper, the man honors a woman from England named Shelia. A woman he loved and lost.  A woman who loved the Oregon Coast because it made her feel at home, and now this man makes others feel that way.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eye-to-Eye



I am away at the beach for three days with the sole purpose of sensory deprivation. I want less. Less sound. Less vibration. Less text alerts. Less of anything and everything that lets me know someone wants something from me.

Two days in, I’m so bored I’m climbing the walls. There is no Wi-Fi. I’ve received notice on my phone we are about to exceed our family data plan for the month. I’m “cheating,” checking e-mails, getting on Facebook, sending a text, making a call.

I’m bored and lonely and I never thought in a million years I’d be bored or lonely.

So, I drive the couple miles into town, and by town, I mean town. First stop is the local convenience store, which promises free Wi-Fi, espresso, used books, some videos for rent, and other sundries. I grab some saltwater taffy, light bulbs, a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, pay and ask for the password. 

I sit down at one of two two-person tables with a vinyl sea-patterned tablecloth, and get to work. I reply to emails, I write a quick blog post, I “like” several things on Facebook.  I’m about to order Wil’s graduation pictures that the professional took of him sort-of shaking the principal’s hand, when a woman wheels up next to me on a motorized scooter.

“Do you mind reaching in the back of my chair and getting out the charger? I’m heading over the bridge, and don’t want to run out of juice!” She is a large woman, spilling out over the chair, gray hair in a ponytail, a face that could be 40, 50 or 60. “The community all chipped in and got me this chair. Great community. I’ve only had it since February. Medicaid is buying me a new one in August. It’s great, now I’m not housebound. I can get out.”

I find the charger, and plug it in directly above my left shoulder. It appears we will be neighbors while her chair charges, as there is nowhere else for her to go, and the cord is not very long.

“Don’t let me bother you,” she says, as she sings the oldies songs that come on the radio, picks up the rocks that are 4 for $1.00, loudly expressing pleasure with each.

It’s clear that whatever nonsense I’ve got going on my computer screen is nothing compared to the story that this woman has, and so I venture in. “Are you from around?”

“I’m from everywhere. I’m Native American. I’m from Montana, I’m from Colorado, I’ve lived all over.”

“So, this community chipped in to buy you this chair? You must be well-loved by the community,” I offer.

“I am,” she smiles. “I’ve got a lot of health problems. I’ve got lupus. I’ve got fibromyalgia. I’ve got arthritis, the kind that’ll cripple ya. I’ve got epilepsy. I’ve got heart issues. I’ve got a lot of health issues. I'm going to give this chair back to the community when Medicaid gives me a new one. It's important to give back, pay it forward. My mom taught me it's important to give back. I like to help people."

She sees the Portland Marathon shirt I’m wearing and asks me about it. It feels cruel to go into too many details of my marathoning, while listening to her long list of health issues.

“I was only supposed to live until 21,” she says, “but I’m 48. I’ve defied the odds. I was a congenital twin. When we were separated at birth, by brother died. I’ve had issues ever since.”

I learned she lives in Section 8 housing with a care giver and the care giver’s husband. “Three’s a crowd, I’m moving out into my own apartment in August.”

I’m ashamed for the few minutes I buried my head in my non-important Internet “needs” while ignoring this woman who so clearly needed human connection.

“It’s not nice here very often, I try to get out when it is. I don’t like crowds much, but I don’t like being in my house all the time, either. “

I learn she takes 20 pills with breakfast, 10 with lunch and 30 with dinner. I learn she technically died three times just last month. “If you have something to say to someone, say it. Don’t take tomorrow for granted,” she wisely shares.

I learn that the life I thought I needed a break from, is a piece-of-cake compared to so many lives riddled with pain, suffering, poverty, isolation.

I learn that sometimes a need for connection goes beyond the tap, tap, tapping of the keyboard, straight into the eyes of a stranger.

“I think my chair is charged up, would you mind unplugging it, rolling up the cord and putting it in that pocket in the back?”

I do so and she asks, “Is my wallet back there? It has a dream-catcher on it. I want to make sure my caregiver put it in there.”

“It’s in here, “ I say.

I hope she catches her dreams.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Very Busy

Graduation is over.

I would tell you all about it (and I will, eventually), but for now, I've very, very otherwise occupied.





Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Centering

I think Wil may be right, we may "need a divorce." When you've managed not to swear at your child, let alone drop the F-bomb in almost 19 years, and then you do, merely because he adjusted the knobs  and buttons to control the heat/defrost in the car (AGAIN), something's got to give.

But, I ask you, is it too much to ask that the person driving the other person day in, day out, essentially wherever and whenever said person likes to go, have some control over the internal temperature of the car, and be able to see out the windows?

A lot of emotion going on and a lot more coming our way before it's "over." We've had a family member in the ER, there's a funeral coming up, there is way too much to do and way too little "reserves" to do it. But, the days are numbered and long days of nothing will be stretching out in front of us in no time.

Isn't life like that? Feast or famine? Too much or too little? Too fast or too slow? Too packed or too boring? The "controls" too "hot" or too "cold?"

It all comes back to the Middle Path, moderation, the gray, the center. And returning to that which we can control.

Our attachment.

Our responses and reactions, or lack thereof.

Our breath.

Amen.